The Abrols exemplify the American dream. Arun Abrol moved his family to the United States from India in 1990, opening a small liquor store in 1994 in South Orange, New Jersey, to support them. From that venture, a wine empire has grown thanks in part to the tireless work of Saurabh Abrol, who joined his father in the family business in 1999 while still in college. Today, Abrol serves as CEO and president of Wine Chateau, while his father holds the title of COO.
Wine Chateau is booming, due largely to the expansion of Internet sales and new technologies. Launched in 2004, Winechateau.com now generates more than $12 million in revenue a year. The company’s four brick-and-mortar stores in northern and central New Jersey together boast similar sales numbers, making total annual revenues more than $25 million, led overwhelmingly by wine. With Wine Chateau on the brink of big expansion, Saurabh Abrol has been named a 2015 Market Watch Leader.
Wine Chateau operates four stores with locations in Metuchen, Piscataway, Colonia and Matawan, New Jersey. The company also owns a large warehouse in Piscataway that houses an extensive online inventory, and it operates an upscale lounge and bar in Colonia named Le Malt, which is managed by Abrol’s wife, Mehak. The stores span between 8,000 and 10,000 square feet and feature sunny, technologically innovative interiors. Wine makes up 45 percent of sales, followed by spirits at 30 percent and beer at 25 percent.
“We’ve given our concept wider aisles and brighter lights, and instead of traditional signs, we use LCD screens,” says Abrol, who graduated from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. “The design creates a different feel. When you walk in, it looks fresh.” He notes that shoppers come from New York City and Philadelphia to take advantage of the sleek interior and competitive pricing. “Our purchasing power allows us to buy inventory in bulk,” Abrol adds. “We’ve been in business for 21 years and have built key relationships with suppliers and distributors. We offer prices that a lot of local competitors can’t match.”
Every aisle in a Wine Chateau unit boasts an LCD screen that details what’s available, and the monitors are positioned so that shoppers can see them from any vantage point in the store. The company puts a high value on staff training to ensure that employees are knowledgeable and able to help guests sort through the roughly 8,000 SKUs. “There’s a lot of interaction between our staff and our customers,” Abrol says. “We make recommendations and are always there to help our guests. Our managers are specialists. They taste wine on a daily basis to keep up with new products.”
Wine Chateau offers 4,000 wine SKUs in store, organized by region and displayed on wooden shelves and bins. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons lead sales, with Italian and French selections close behind. Premium labels priced between $20 and $40 a 750-ml. bottle do well and even more upscale labels like Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) move fast. Online, Winechateau.com boasts an inventory of more than 15,000 wines. The site has a wide range of products and highlights popular items like Villa Neri Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.97), Franco Amoroso Prosecco ($9.99) and Kenwood Vineyards’ Sonoma County Chardonnay ($14.97). The company ships wine to roughly 40 states.
“I started Winechateau.com and focused on the Internet for four or five years to grow that business,” Abrol says. “We were one of only a handful of companies online that could ship wine across the country at the time. The growth of the Internet sector was quite fast for us, and with that success, we grew our brick-and-mortar business. After a few years, the stores caught up to the Internet in sales. Now we’re growing the whole brand.”
Abrol notes that the website is a very different business compared to the brick-and-mortar stores. “It keeps evolving,” he explains. “We use new technologies to attract and retain customers and to learn how they get to our website and what they click on. We use analytics to see how we can make the site better and logistics to ship orders faster. These tools really drive Internet sales, which make up 50 percent of our total revenues.”
High-end spirits also do well at Wine Chateau. The stores stock 2,000 spirits SKUs and have recently seen increased interest in single malts, blended Scotches and Cognacs, as well as aged Tequilas. Abrol says single malt whiskies have seen double-digit growth over the last two years and the store’s best-selling brands are priced at more than $100 a 750-ml. bottle, including The Balvenie 21-year-old Portwood single malt Scotch whisky ($210 a 750-ml. bottle). Wine Chateau offers upscale spirits online too, touting such labels as Don Julio’s 1942 Tequila ($99.99), Laphroaig 18-year-old single malt Scotch whisky ($92.97) and Johnnie Walker Blue Label blended Scotch whisky ($179).
“A lot of our customers are millennials who are switching from beer to the wine and single malt categories,” Abrol says. “We’ve seen a big shift in the last few years. Our Piscataway store markets to Rutgers University and the corporate crowd. Metuchen caters to local residents, and our Colonia store targets a blue collar demographic and sells a lot of spirits and beer.”
Craft brews dominate beer sales at Wine Chateau. The stores boast 2,000 beer SKUs ($1 a can to $30 a 12-pack) and feature large refrigerated sections with as many as 24 cooler doors. Abrol says his customers are eager to experiment with new craft beer labels and he points to Scottish brewer Innis & Gunn as a top performer.
To encourage experimentation, Wine Chateau holds in-store tasting events weekly. Each location features different products and offer hors d’oeuvres. The company hosts higher-end spirits tastings, wine events and pairing dinners at Le Malt, located adjacent to the Colonia store. The venue boasts a menu of more than 750 brown spirits, 200-plus wines, and upscale tapas that feature Asian, Indian and French influences prepared by Haitian-born chef Duke Estime.
Le Malt has a luxury-driven specialty cocktail menu with updated takes on classic drinks ($14), such as a Hennessy Black Cognac–based Mojito and a sangria enhanced with Johnnie Walker Platinum. These offerings are joined by the signature Billionaire Cocktail ($175), mixing Hennessy Paradis Rare Cognac, Grand Marnier Cuvée 1880, Moët & Chandon Imperial Champagne and Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moon moonshine, garnished with edible 23 karat gold flakes and served in a Tiffany Martini glass. Le Malt also sells cigars from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic ($15 to $42).
Local press and larger outlets like the New York Times have showered Le Malt with attention, which has helped boost the Wine Chateau brand. The company has an internal marketing team that communicates with shoppers through email and social media, as well as postcards, flyers, local television and newspaper advertising, and even billboards.
“We’ve been hard at work for many years to create different verticals in the alcohol industry,” Abrol says. “First, we focused on our brick-and-mortar business and from that success we started our website. Over the years we always felt that we wanted to get into the on-premise business too, so now we have a presence in all three realms, with a physical store, online sales, and a restaurant and bar.”
Over the past 10 years, Abrol has grown Wine Chateau from a mom-and-pop operation with two small stores to a wine retailing powerhouse with a huge online presence and upscale retail spaces. His plans for the next decade are even bigger. The retailer aims to open two to three locations per year for the next several years, with the goal of quadrupling sales to top $100 million by 2020. He’s scouting locations for two additional units this year.
Wine Chateau remains a family affair. “My dad works more hours than I do,” Abrol says, adding that his father helps manage buying, pricing and price negotiations with suppliers. Meanwhile, Abrol focuses on growing the business, training employees and fine-tuning operating procedures. “My job is very hands-on,” he says. “I’m involved in strategizing the growth of our brand and looking at different locations for brick-and-mortar stores to see where Wine Chateau can thrive. We’re always looking for new sites, mostly in New Jersey. But once we saturate this market, we’ll branch out.”